The vision for Skillify started when USC alum Shireen Jaffer moved from Pakistan to Palo Alto, Calif. at age 7.
While attending high school in Palo Alto, Jaffer witnessed how the extreme pressures to do well in school damage students. There were six suicides among students from 2009 to 2010 in Palo Alto alone. During that time, Jaffer realized that she did not have the same connections as her peers who had lived in Palo Alto their whole lives. Jaffer said that by age 14 she had become a natural networker to gain a competitive edge. The networking skills that she developed in high school set the foundation for Skillify, which helps students succeed beyond the classroom.
“We are not doing a good job of showing students the true definition and meaning of their success,” Jaffer said. With Skillify, she wanted to “show students how to find their value” by learning applicable skills that were not taught in school.
Skillify provides virtual and one-on-one coaching for students as young as 15 to build their networking skills, prepare for the professional world and find mentorships and job shadows. In addition to one-on-one support, Skillify hosts a monthly conference at USC that bring together high school students to learn networking, communication and time management.
“I’m fortunate enough to have support for conferences at USC,” Jaffer said. “People realize that USC is their dream school, so I’m welcoming people into the Trojan Family.”
Jaffer has worked with high schools to introduce a curriculum that sets students up for success and hosted additional conferences there. College students are also participating in Skillify for the first time this year, because Jaffer believes too many college students are unable to realize their full potential.
“We want to help students go from minimum wage jobs to be able to pursue a paid internship that they would potentially get a career in,” Jaffer said.
In her sophomore year at USC, Jaffer launched what would one day be Skillify with seven students. The Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies helped Jaffer build her startup, and in 2013, she rebranded to the name “Skillify” to reflect success that is dependent on skills rather than grades. Now, three years later, Jaffer said she works with 180 schools and 4,400 students. Jaffer hopes that her company helps students look at and approach success differently.
Jaffer is looking to expand to community college students, who she feels have more need than high school or university students. Community college students, according to Jaffer, are settling for jobs they don’t want and do not further their careers.
“If Starbucks is not part of your career path, it won’t add to career development,” Jaffer said.
In the essence of giving opportunities to all students, Skillify gives out scholarships to those who cannot afford tuition. Jaffer said that 60 percent of students in the program are from low-income families.
“We want to make sure we are accessible to students from all backgrounds so there is equal opportunity,” Jaffer said.